Visit La Moreneta, the patron saint of Catalonia, at the spiritual destination of Montserrat, an essential day trip from Barcelona. We cover how to get to Montserrat from Barcelona, choosing the best tour to Montserrat, and three choices of hotel in Montserrat, Spain’s very popular religious and historical site.
We’d stumbled into the basilica at Montserrat just in time for Sunday Mass, and still the line to see her continued of its own accord. The famous boys choir sang, the Mass was spoken in dulcet Catalan, and the line never faltered. Pilgrim by pilgrim. Step by step. Each awaiting a turn with the Black Madonna, La Moreneta, Our Lady of Montserrat.
During the service, in the distant altar window through which the Little Dark One presides over the sanctuary, we saw the people filing past. Each stopped briefly before her.
As we emerged from the crush of congregants, the queue for La Moreneta had shortened. And so we took our places, too. Slowly and quietly we moved through several anterooms, up a set of marble stairs, past the carved effigies of saints. Whispers in many languages, a cough here, a shuffle there.
Perhaps it was the palpable energy – a mixture of mysticism and reverence – inhabiting the sanctuary and its natural surroundings that drew us into the spell of La Moreneta. To date, this has been one of the most meaningful experiences we had in Spain.
Why is a Day Trip from Barcelona to Montserrat so Important?
Many visitors to Catalunya wonder why a day trip from Barcelona to Montserrat is so important? La Moreneta, Our Lady of Montserrat, along with Sant Jordi (Saint George), is the patron saint of Catalunya. Her mysterious appeal lies, in part, within a murky historical legend. But, as with so many things, the whole is greater than the sum of its parts.
We consider this the best among the day trips from Barcelona a visitor could make because it leads to understanding of Catalan tradition. Even more, your visit will provide religious insights and perhaps even a spiritual reminder of the mysticism and wonder modern religious practice sometimes omits. It is an incomparable feeling to tap into the residual energy that permeates this location.
Things to Know about La Moreneta – the Black Madonna
Some believe La Moreneta was carved by St. Luke in Jerusalem (a previous name for her was La Jerosolimitana), and brought to the region by St. Peter in the first century. Others have said that she came with Mary Magdalene, who escaped from the Holy Land (or Egypt, depending upon your belief). Some stories go on to say that Mary Magdalene had her child with her: the child of Jesus, conceived in the Garden of Gethsemane before the betrayal by Judas Iscariot. Many legends agree the statue of Our Lady was then moved for safekeeping to Montserrat ahead of the Saracen invasion in the 8th century.
The most widely held legend has the statue being discovered during the Feast of the Ascension in a cave below the current site of the basilica by a group of children. Their story of singing and flashing lights during the discovery was later corroborated by their parents. Contemporary authorities have cited the timing of the discovery as coincidental with annual meteor showers:
La Moreneta is carved from wood in the traditional pose referred to as the “Throne of Wisdom” (in the Latin, sedes sapientiae) by the Catholic Church. In this pose, the Madonna is seated with the Christ child on her knee, holding a sphere (representing the world) in her outstretched right hand. Catholics and historians associate this pose with depictions of the Mother of God.
Later history (with carbon dating) has confirmed the age of the current statue (which some still refer to as a replacement) to about the year 1100. This would coincide with the Medieval tendency to merge pagan tradition with newer Christian beliefs in religious imagery. Sourcing these origins weaves a background from such diverse goddess traditions as Isis, Magog and Lilith, all of whom have been depicted with dark skin. Pagans often hid these religious effigies in hollow trees and caves.
Sources say Our Lady of Montserrat’s hands and face gradually darkened either from candle smoke or some sort of chemical reaction in the original varnish used to seal her paint. Regardless, she has been refurbished over the centuries. We see her now in 18th-century paint. There are replicas of Our Lady of Montserrat in many chapels, including Tossa del Mar in Catalunya, and the chapel at Santiago de Compostela, at the end of the Camino many pilgrims walk.
Of the 500 or so Black Madonnas in Europe, La Moreneta is perhaps the most venerated with over 150 Italian churches and chapels dedicated to her. When Spanish Catholics evangelized Mexico, Chile and Peru, their first churches were often named for Our Lady of Montserrat. During the same time frame in 1522, St. Ignatius of Loyola, founder of the Jesuits, came to pay tribute after a serious wounding in the Battle of Pamplona. He famously left his sword with La Moreneta after experiencing a vision in the statue’s presence, staying on in the town of Manresa below Montserrat to write his Spiritual Exercises.
Things to Know About Montserrat’s Pre-Christian and Mythical History
Prehistoric remains have been discovered here. In Roman times, this was the site of a pre-Christian Temple of Venus. There have been chapels of one sort or another on the mountains since the 9th century.
In the Middle Ages, referred to as “Montsalvat,” Montserrat was associated with the Holy Grail, both in the Tales of King Arthur and Germanic myth. Wagner set his opera, Parsifal, here using the Medieval German poem, Parzival, as a story source.
Things to Know About the Role of Montserrat in Modern History
Deep symbolism of the kind interwoven with La Moreneta, Montserrat, and the Holy Grail can, of course, lead to reactions other than reverence. Hitler was influenced by a mixture of occult references and interpretations of Wagner’s legendary story. He was convinced that possession of the Holy Grail would guarantee Nazi victory and supernatural powers. In 1940, Heinrich Himmler, in Barcelona while Hitler was conferencing elsewhere with Franco, arrived at Montserrat only to be snubbed by the Abbot. More interested in the mountain as a purported location for the Grail, Himmler returned to Barcelona empty-handed the same day.
During the Spanish Civil War, 22 monks from Montserrat were killed by Republican forces, after which the Abbot declared it a sanctuary at which students, political activists, intellectuals and artists took refuge from Franco. Franco had suppressed use of the Catalan language in an attempt to solidify Spain under his power. In 1947, mass was publicly said in Catalan at Montserrat, defying the policy.
In the final years of Franco, the principles of renewal from the Second Vatican Council encouraged the Church in Catalunya to more visible opposition. In 1970, about 300 intellectuals locked themselves into the monastery during a three day protest in support of Basque ETA activists who had been sentenced to death. Franco commuted their sentences.
With all this history and tradition, is it any wonder that no list of day trips from Barcelona fails to include a visit to this storied location?
How to Get to Montserrat from Barcelona
Montserrat (meaning “serrated mountain”) has long held significance with a variety of beliefs and religious practices. The mountain cluster soars over 4,000 feet from the valley floor below. From this vantage point on a clear day, the island of Mallorca is visible beyond Barcelona in the distant Mediterranean sea.
When we researched how to get to Montserrat from Barcelona, we found straightforward information. Hourly trains run daily from Barcelona between 08 and 18 on the :36, Express at 8:55. The last train from Montserrat back to Barcelona is at 20:15. Take the R5 route from Plaça Espanya to Monistrol, transfer to Montserrat. From Trans Montserrat you can get a ticket which includes Metro to Monistrol, Transfer Train to Montserrat and Rack Railway, with add-ons for the funiculars, audiovisual, museum entrance and lunch. We encountered helpful personnel on the R5 route, but if it’s your first day trip to Montserrat, you may feel more comfortable booking ahead.
Tot Montserrat: Transport, Museum Tickets & Lunch
Combined ticket to Montserrat with a range of benefits: Barcelona metro ticket, return train to Monistrol de Montserrat from Playa Espanya, cable car, unlimited funicular at Santa Cova, audiovisual Gallery admission, museum admission and Catalan lunch. Click here to check pricing.
Similar option without lunch: Click here to check pricing.
From Barcelona: Montserrat Half-Day Trip
A small group walking tour (up to 8 people) with local guide and private transport hotel pick-up and drop off to the train, includes Monastery and Holy Cave visit, along with Children’s Choir. Click here to check pricing.
Montserrat Royal Basilica with Cog-Wheel Train or Bus
This 5 hour tour includes an option for cog-wheel train ascent to the Benedictine abbey, Royal Basilica, and museum access. Choose from English or Spanish language guides and morning or afternoon departures from the meeting point in Barcelona. Click here to check pricing.
If you’d rather go by bus to Montserrat with a site orientation and plenty of free time:
Montserrat Tour from Barcelona
Transportation from and to Barcelona in air-conditioned bus with guided walk to the Basilica and English language orientation to the monastery, chapel, audiovisual exhibition, museum and library. Free time to explore on your own and musical entertainment on the way back to Barcelona. Click here to check pricing.
Choose the Best Tour Options to Montserrat Based Upon Your Interests and the Amount of Time You Have
Make the most of your day trip to Montserrat from Barcelona with special activities designed to showcase the magnificent scenery and local flavor to their best advantage.
Best Tour of Montserrat and Barcelona If You Only Have One Day in Port
Skip-The-Line Barcelona & Montserrat Tour with Pick-Up
Small group tour includes main sights in Barcelona: La Sagrada Familia, Park Guell and Gaudi buldings, Montjuic Olympic site, and Montserrat mountain. This is a good option if you have a one-day port stop from a cruise. Click here to check pricing.
Best Tour of Montserrat for Early Risers
Small Group Early Visit Montserrat & Santa Cecilia
Via comfortable luxury micro-bus from Barcelona ahead of the crowds to the Royal Basilica (where La Moreneta resides). Experience the audiovisual exhibition with typical liquors, and the ancient Romanesque Santa Ceclia Monastery with audio guide. Brunch with wines on the porch or courtyard. Click here to check pricing.
Best Tours of Montserrat for Wine Aficionados
Montserrat & Cava Winery Small Group Day Tour
Tour the world’s largest underground wine cellars on a small electric train, with cava tasting, then drive in comfortable, air-conditioned bus along the Llobregat River up to Montserrat to coincide with the midday Boys’ Choir concert. Guide will orient you to monastery, basilica, museum, and shopping, with time to explore on your own. Click here to check pricing.
Montserrat Day Tour with Wine Tasting & Black Madonna
Select from one or two day options which include art and artifacts, the monastery and sacred mountain scenery. Museum entrance includes wine tasting. Click here to check pricing.
From Barcelona: Full-Day Montserrat & Wine Small Group Tour
Full-day, intimate inclusive tour of Oller del Mas (an ancient castle), the Montserrat National Park and Sanctuary, walking tour of natural park, and tasting menu at Oller del Mas chateau. Shared transport in comfortable, air-conditioned bus, with English-speaking guide. Click here to check pricing.
Full-Day Montserrat, Tapas and Wine Tour from Barcelona
A 7-hour experience includes cogwheel train up to Montserrat, guided monastery visit, liquor and pastries, and tasting menu at Oller del Mas cellar (located in a 10th century castle) – either lunch or tapas brunch. Tasting includes three organic wines. Click here to check pricing.
Best Tours of Montserrat for Active Visitors
From Barcelona: Montserrat Monastery and Natural Park Hike
A 5-½ hour experience includes a one hour trek above the funicular ascent of the mountain, as well as an Abbey tour and boys’ choir performance. Transport from Barcelona by luxury mini-bus and multi-lingual guide. Click here to check pricing.
From Barcelona: Montserrat Monastery, Nature & Hermitage
A personalized guided tour of Montserrat from Barcelona with transport by car or minivan includes visit to the monastery, funicular ascent to the top of the mountain, and walking tour to the hermitage in the National Park. Click here to check pricing.
From Barcelona: Half-Day Montserrat and Horseback Riding Tour
Via luxury mini-bus a half-day guided tour of Montserrat including Abbey visit and Boys Choir with Cable Car descent. At the nearby equestrian center at the foot of the Monserrat Massif, ride through the countryside with experienced guides. Click here to check pricing.
Unforgettable Tour over Montserrat and Barcelona by Hot Air Balloon
Hot Air Balloon Ride from Barcelona
See Montserrat from the air during this 5-hour experience which begins at dawn. Gently float over the mountain peaks, the city and the Mediterranean with cava champagne and brunch picnic meal, first flight certificate included. Click here to check pricing.
Don’t Miss Attractions on Your Day Trip to Montserrat from Barcelona
The Royal Basilica is a combination of Gothic and Renaissance style. Although it was originally built in the 16th century, much of it was destroyed during Napoleon’s retreat in 1811. The statue survived, safely hidden away again by the monks in a secret location.
We found ourselves unconcerned with the slowness of the line to the statue, grateful for the chance to absorb our surroundings with several senses.
We inhaled the fragrance of incense used during Mass.
We admired the combined grandeur and simplicity of the artwork and adornments. We were humbled by the depth of devotion in the story of St. Ignatius along with other saints and disciples.
And via all these sensory inputs, we began to understand how meaningful La Moreneta and Montserrat are to people of faith around the world and especially to the citizens of Catalunya. This is Catalunya’s most important religious retreat. It is a tradition with young people in particular to journey up here to watch the sunrise.
Approaching La Moreneta’s chamber, anticipation heightens. This is deliberate on the part of the many contributors to its design. The intention is that you, the pilgrim, make gradual contact.
As you pass through the solid silver doors, you will see Our Lady enthroned in the style of an Italian Renaissance triptych, with various scenes from the Visitation and Nativity at its sides. Silver angels hold her emblems: crown, scepter and iris. Saint George is at her feet. St. Michael is carved from a block of Montserrat stone symbolizing his protection of both mountain and sanctuary.
Our time with La Moreneta, out of necessity and deference to others awaiting their turn, was short. We made the ritual gesture, which is the brief touch or kiss to the globe in her hand. There was no bolt of lightning or shock of any sort in doing this, but a quiet confirmation of the serenity which had begun to build during our approach. We were solemn but happy, too. We felt a sense of renewal that is, even now, difficult to explain.
Since our day in the sanctuary, the image of La Moreneta has regularly appeared in my mind. At first, I wondered at this. But now I am always glad when she does. I like that she is with me in her own quiet way. And perhaps that is the intention of whatever the power we felt in our visit to Montserrat.
The Museum of Montserrat is often overlooked in favor of the Basilica and other areas with more overt religious importance. We enjoyed the intimacy with its impressive collection. You will see works by Catalunyan painters and sculptors, Dalí, Picasso, and Caravaggio. There is also a surprising number of Egyptian and Middle Eastern artifacts collected by Father Bonaventura Ubach. The Iconography of Our Lady of Montserrat looks at different ways in which La Moreneta has been depicted. Permanent exhibits of Byzantine and Slavic icons, as well as gold and silver liturgical objects from the 15th – 20th century, are on display.
There are several restaurant options at Montserrat, ranging from snack bar to fine dining with reservations recommended. Many visitors bring picnic lunches to hike the trails above and below the sanctuary and commercial areas.
Finding a Hotel in Montserrat
When it comes to finding a hotel in Montserrat, Spain’s history comes into play. We’ve often thought that when we visited again, we’d forego a day trip to Montserrrat from Barcelona in favor of an overnight stay either on the mountain, or very close to it. Maybe, we thought, the best day trip from Barcelona isn’t really a day trip at all! With all this in mind, check out our recommendations.
Hotel Abat Cisneros The former monastery is great place to experience the quiet mornings and evenings after the throngs of tourists have departed. Beautiful views, free wifi, private baths.
Click here to see Trip Advisor reviews. To book with Booking.com, click here.
Apartamentos Montserrat Abat Marcet Spacious units include kitchenette, dining and sitting areas, private bathroom and shower. On-site bar and restaurant. The building has a small market, breakfast available at the nearby hotel. Click here to see Trip Advisor reviews. To book with Booking.com, click here.
El Celler de la Guardia A traditional, vintage guesthouse on a rural hilltop, just a short drive from Montserrat with onsite restaurant frequented by locals. Pet and family friendly. Click here to see Trip Advisor reviews. To book with Booking.com, click here.